Fraternities collaborate aiming to decrease number of sexual assaults


Photo credit: Quinn Butterfield

Graphic by Quinn Butterfield

Members of Trinity’s fraternities and sororities are currently in a three-week first-year prohibition they’re calling the “Red Zone.” For the next 11-or-so days, no first-years will be admitted to off-campus parties.

This initiative began after director of Student Involvement Jamie Thompson and dean of students David Tuttle approached Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) members with data from recent, unpublished surveys. The data points showed these important things: most sexual assaults happen on-campus or at fraternity or sorority houses and most sexual assaults happen to students in their first year.

This data, as well as conversations that happened late last spring between FSL leaders and staff members in the Office of Student Involvement, sparked consideration of resolutions.

“The idea actually came from the fraternity presidents themselves,” Thompson said. “I think once they realized they weren’t alone in their opinions in what they were experiencing, it made it easier, but they had to come together around that to kind of figure it out.”

Early this semester, junior Mike Masuo, men’s chair of Greek Council, met with fraternity leaders officially to present the idea of a three-week ban of first-years from parties held by FSL organizations.

“Individual groups are still holding parties, but they’re just closed off to first-years,” Masuo said. “It was kind of a concession. No one would agree if we just said no parties, so just to get the maximum benefit, we agreed on banning first-years since that’s the most problematic group.”

The process of identifying first-years includes checking Tiger Cards — which do not have students’ grade levels on them, just birthdays — and keeping an invite-only list at the door.

Last week, Masuo held a vote after bringing the idea to the leaders of the fraternities and found that the result was mostly positive.

“I thought I would get a lot of push-back,” Masuo said. “We have seven fraternities on campus, and six agreed outright. One of them — I don’t want to say specific names — they weren’t against it. They just needed to talk to their club and make it a club decision.”

Because fraternities traditionally are the hosts of parties, senior and women’s co-chair of Greek Council Liz Bertsch explained that the sorority leaders did not vote on the subject, though all were immediately supportive of it.

“Since we’re not actually throwing the parties, it’s a bit of a different involvement. A lot of it comes from support. You know, being in support of our counterparts throwing a closed-off party,” Bertsch said.

One way sororities have discussed supporting this initiative is by having more of their members be sober monitors at parties. As required by the Safer Parties Initiative (SPIn), party hosts must have an adequate number of sober monitors at all times.

“We’re trying to make it a little more balanced, a little more equal,” Bertsch said. “It’s in the works to have maybe some female sober monitors as well. If you’re a young female at a party, you might feel more comfortable going up to a sorority member instead of a fraternity member.”

Though the initiative is promoted by members of Greek Council, there is no oversight by the executive board; rather, the accountability depends on the willingness of the groups to maintain it.

Tuttle explained that this initiative is similar to the SPIn that was put into place in 2016; both programs rely on cooperation from both students and the administration.

“We try to make it educational,” Tuttle said. “This is purely voluntary on the students. I think the best way to kill it is to turn it into a policy and give the university oversight.”

According to senior Ty Tinker, president of the Chi Delta Tau fraternity, this lack of university control is important to the effectiveness of the initiative.

“The beauty behind the idea is the strength of the idea,” Tinker said. “It’s not Dean Tuttle telling fraternities what to do. It’s a grassroots movement to address the problem of sexual assault and harassment, and other issues over-drinking, things like that. That’s coming from the people hosting the events.”

Masuo agreed. Despite the lack of official consequence, he believes a negative response from peers is the true punishment for groups that decide not to go along with the initiative.

“It’s hard to understand for someone who’s outside of Greek life, but for the fraternities, the perception of your club is very important as well as perception from sororities, so if you break this, this is going public,” Masuo said. “The perception of your club is going to get destroyed. That’s kind of what’s holding this together. We’re keeping each other accountable by perceptions between the clubs.”

Masuo explained that the Clothesline Project from last March influenced the creation of this “Red Zone”.

“Last year, we had issues come up about sexual assault kind of involving Greek life that were outlined in the Clothesline Project, and that really hit us hard,” Masuo said. “We like throwing parties, we like having fun, but if it means people are getting hurt, then we don’t want to do this. This is why the fraternity presidents agreed so quickly because if it means people getting hurt, we don’t want to perpetuate that.”

Both Masuo and Bertsch explained that support and understanding of the initiative is the best way to ensure it’s effective.

“I think it’s very feasible at a small school like Trinity. I think that’s what makes Greek life at Trinity unique is that it is small, so you have the ability to tackle things like this,” Bertsch said.

According to Tinker, FSL members received the initiative positively because it supports safety, minimizes liability and risk and ultimately helps the FSL image, but he thinks there’s more to be done.

“I think it’s a first step, not the only step,” Tinker said. “I don’t see it as a cure to these problems that exist, but you have to take steps in the right direction if you want to see success with any culture of a group.”

The three-week first-year ban will officially end Sept. 10 with Greek 101, an FSL information session open to first-years and other interested students. The event marks the first day of recruitment for FSL organizations.

However, FSL’s support of student safety, especially concerning sexual assault and harassment, won’t end there. FSL will be incorporating educational trainings that cover a range of topics, including allyship and bystander intervention, as well as sexual misconduct.

“I would like to see more workshops geared toward consent and sexual misconduct in the future,” said Wills Brown, assistant director for FSL. “That’s something we’ll continue to work on, especially for actives. It’s not something just for [potential new members]. Everyone needs to be more educated when it comes to this.”

Though there is no certainty the initiative will continue in future years, Thompson is hopeful.

“I really hope it’s successful,” Thompson said. “I think this will send a message across campus about the priorities that the fraternities and sororities hold, the values that they have.”